“Nobody knew how the revolution would end, but the event itself was extraordinary,” says Masud Kimiai, “And full of idealism and beauty.” As the director of Snake Fang (Dandan-e-mar) and The Journey of the Stone (Safar Sang) remembers the Iranian Revolution in 1979, you see a mix of footage, crowds waving flags in the street and women dropping flowers from balconies, and a few shots later, police chasing after citizens, helmets white and guns raised. Most viewers of Iran: A Cinematographic Revolution, will know that this shift from exhilaration to fear and aggression had its seeds in decades of corruption and resentment, in weak internal infrastructures and not-so-secret interventions by the West. What may be less well known is how closely the film industry in Iran has mapped, anticipated, and helped to shape the nation’s political movements and fractures.
This story is unveiled in Nader Takmil Homayoun’s 2006 documentary, available now on Link TV‘s excellent broadcast and online series, A Bridge to Iran. In tracing how movies in Iran have been put to use by both Reza Shah Pahlevi and his son, and the fundamentalist religious regime under Khomeini, the film makes the broader point, that media shape, support, and can challenge other regimes, even when those regimes don’t think of themselves as such.
The number and diversity of filmmakers who provide perspectives is impressive, including prerevolutionary artists like Bahram Beyzai and the late Fereydoun Goleh, and post-revolutionary filmmakers such as Dariush Mehrjui, Bahman Ghobadi, and Rakhshan Bani-Etemad. Like many of the interview subjects, Mohsen Makhmalbaf offers a look at the past as it informed his own work: Sohrab Shahid Saless’s A Simple Event (Yek Etefagh sadeh) (1974), Makhmalbaf says, “succeeded in showing life as it is in reality,” inspiring other filmmakers also to break off from “promoting” the state’s agenda, and instead to express their own ideas about the state. And yet, even as post-revolutionary Iranian have films turned to new subjects and representational strategies, they maintain what Makhmalbaf calls “poetry.” As he phrases it, rather poetically, “The tree of Iranian cinema found its roots in Persian poetry.” Homayoun’s documentary assembles terrific montages of clips drawn from famous and less known films, the images spilling over into history and vice versa. What the film, made in 2009, does not show, are the effects of the December 2011 ruling by Iran’s Council of Public Culture, that the “House of Cinema,” the nation’s largest professional filmmakers’ organization, is now illegal.